The 1.6 Ton Concrete Stairway Procrastination Project

One challenge living in a house built on a steep hillside offers is erosion. From the street to the top of the property, I’ve estimated it’s about seven stories or seventy feet of elevation gain.

The erosion I’m talking about had washed enough dirt away from the southwest foundation of the house over the decades to expose the bottom of the concrete and allow the ivy to grow under the house in addition to letting rats move in too.

The erosion, ivy and rats led to this concrete stairway project on the southwest side of the house that I started on April 10, when I cleared away the thick ivy and ended almost four months later on August 1, 2015, with a 2nd coat of stucco in those areas where there were no steps or sidewalk. To show what I’m talking about, I’ve included nine photographs after the text of this post.

There is a double explanation for adding the word procrastination to the title. One reason is that I’ve known for several years that this job had to be done, and the second was that it was a great excuse to escape Twitter—my experience is that when you spend too much time on Twitter, it squeezes all the energy out of your brain until it refuses to function—and working on the rough draft of my next novel, The Last Sorcerer.  The next image is a working cover for the first book in a planned five-part series.

Book One on July 20 - 2015

In total, I worked on the concrete stairway project for nineteen days and 63 hours for an average of about 3.3 hours on each working day. When I started, I thought I’d be able to work the long 12 to 16 hours days of hard labor I worked when I was age 30 – 40, but I quickly learned that wasn’t going to be the case. At almost 70, when you work this hard, you quickly feel the damage age contributes.

The first damage was to my elbows from swinging a pick and sledge hammer to break up the hard packed clay—clay soil is difficult to work in dry or wet. I solved this later by using a heavy duty hammer drill and a wide chisel bit.

After that first and last 6-hour work day on April 14, I took a two-week break to let both elbows recover. The damage to the right elbow was worse than the left one. On April 15, I couldn’t move that arm or hold a pen to write, and it took the next fourteen days before I felt it was safe to continue working on the project.

Eventually, on May 22, I visited Big-5 and bought two, one-piece neoprene Pro Elbow Support sleeves that dramatically helped speed up the healing process and alleviated the pain so I could get back to work more often. I still don’t know why the elbow supports worked but they did.

By the time I finished the project, I had poured 19 bags of gravel that weighed a total of 950 pounds and mixed 41-bags of concrete (2,260 pounds based on dry weight). I have no idea how much that concrete weighed once it was wet, but I carried it up the hill in buckets from the mixing pan.

The receipts for the project reveal that I made thirteen supply runs, and I did not add in the hours spent driving to Home Depot to buy the material necessary to finish the work. If each supply run took 2.5 hours (a guestimate), then that added another 32.5 hours bringing the total to almost 96 hours.

Here are the nine photographs that show several stages of the project from near the beginning to the end, and writing this post gave me another excuse to avoid working on the last chapter in the first novel of The Last Sorcerer series.

Stairway Project One

Stairway Project Two

Stairway Project Three

Stairway Project Five

Stairway Project Six

Stairway Project Seven

Stairway Project Eight

Stairway Project Nine Stairway Project Ten


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy followed by his award winning memoir Crazy is Normal . His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards.

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Trying to get a job done and ending up with a useless right arm

The pain is in my right arm—specifically the elbow—and it left that arm feeling almost useless and without strength.

The job was installing a stairway along one side of our hillside home. Erosion over the years had washed away the dirt under the foundation and rats were getting under the house and living in the floor space between the 1st and 2nd story.

1 - Stairway Project April 2015

At night, I can hear them above my head moving around and rattling the electric wires that run between the first story celling and second story floor.

2 - Stairway Project April 2015

The soil is hard, packed clay and to break it up requires elbow grease swinging a sledge hammer against metal foundation spikes or against a concrete chisel or using a miner’s pick. The third day on that job, I overdid it. The first two days were digging and cutting out the ivy that was covering the space where the new stairs are going to go, and the ivy was growing under the foundation and into the area under the house. Before I started, the space where you see dirt and future steps was covered with ivy that was growing over the air conditioning unit and up the side of the house.

3 - Stairway Project April 2015

It was all that pounding that put the strain on an aging elbow that wasn’t up to the work it once did decades earlier, and that put my right arm out of commission.

4 - Stairway project April 2013

Once the pain is gone and the strength returns, I’ll get back to work. Getting old is a learning experience that never ends when we ask our bodies to do what we once did when we were much younger. The photos show how much I finished in those three days, but they don’t show all the trips to Home Deport to buy the material I’m using to get the job done. From the photos, it looks like a small job to me, but my right arm is telling me something different.


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His fourth novel is The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

Complete Kindle e-book Cover on February 18 Flattened

Lloyd Lofthouse also worked as a maître d’ in a nightclub called the Red Onion for a few years. A romantic at heart, in his award winning novels, he tests true love in difficult situations and the challenges of keeping that love alive. My Splendid Concubine, his first novel, is an epic love story that teaches acceptance and respect for other people and their cultures. Running with the Enemy, his second novel is a love story that will either cost the characters their lives or will complete each other’s hearts. Lloyd Lofthouse lives with his family in California’s San Francisco Bay area.

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A Summer Vacation from Writing—for the most part

I haven’t done much writing this summer. My next book, a teacher’s memoir called “Crazy is Normal” is in beta stage and it—the manuscript—has been patiently waiting for me to start the final revisions and editing.

And the posts that are still appearing on my Blogs were pretty much what I had already written and pre-scheduled back in June.  But I have been sprouting ideas and keeping notes.

No, I’m not suffering from writer’s block. Instead, I decided this summer to work around the house on several projects that I’ve been kicking around inside my head for years—after all, there are only so many hours in a day.

First, I built this redwood framed lattice fence with gates between the house and the detached garage. The back yard was mostly fenced except for this 16-foot opening. Like the thieves they are, the deer were slipping into the backyard at night through that space and eating my wife’s flowers and fruit.  She is the gardener in the family.


Then I moved on to three small projects: adding a photocell to a new, very bright LED spotlight that came with a motion detector so it wouldn’t go on during the day; fixing a few loose steps on one of the many outdoor stairways on our hillside property, and mixing two bags of cement for a pad to attach a hose-reel box to that I bought at Lowe’s.  The 100 foot hose had always been a tangled mess before I installed that box with a crank handle.

That job took more than week. After I mixed the concrete and poured it into a box frame, I waited for it to cure.  While I waited, I started the last project—the toughest.

When we bought the house, the room where we watch TV had a nine-foot wide, floor to ceiling bookshelf-cabinet unit that housed a very large rear projection TV—basically a huge box that was about five-feet high and several-feet deep.

But we couldn’t stream TV programs from the Internet to that old, rear-projection TV, and I decided to upgrade to a 55 inch flat-screen. To achieve that meant remodeling the white-oak cabinet and shelf unit.  My first idea was to have the job done until the price tag came in at $8,000 or more.

I have my own woodshop and have been into woodworking for decades so it was an easy decision to dust off the machines that hadn’t been in use for several years and shift gears from writing to cabinet work.

The following photographs document the progress of this project. I’m not done yet but when it’s completed, I will start working on the revisions and editing for “Crazy is Normal, a classroom expose”.

As you can see, I occasionally decide to take some time away from the blades and drills.  My fingers have been itching for the keyboard so I decided to feed the writer’s beast that has been shouting inside my head to be let out. If I don’t listen, it gets really loud keeping me awake nights.






Update on September 13, 2013


I have almost finished the bottom half of the project. There’s sanding, filling and staining left before I start work on the top part where the flat screen TV will be attached.


In the last photo for this update, you will see the top of a surge protector behind the pull out shelf.  I have to move this to the right about two inches because it is blocking some connections in the wall behind it.


Behind the DVD/VCR player, there is a space designed to hold DVDs. I plan to drill a hole that will carry the input and power cords—out of sight—through that space, so they won’t have to go over it.

Update on October 2, 2013

1st Project Photo on 10 two 13

2nd Project Photo on 10 two 13

3rd project photo on 10 two 13

At this point, the project looks finished, and we can watch the 55″ flat screen TV, because all the components and the internet are wired in.  But I haven’t finished the removable storage that will be hidden behind the TV.

If you look at the second photo in this update, you will see where I plan to install the removable DVD storage in the open spaces behind the TV. That work can all be done in my wood shop and then slid into place.

But first, I want to catch up on my blogging and finish my next book, a teacher’s memoir called “Crazy is Normal, a Classroom Expose”. During one year in the 1990s, I kept a detailed, daily journal of what was going on in my classroom, and I used that as my source material almost twenty years later.

Discover the Sunday Hike


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran and English-journalism teacher.

His latest novel is the award winning Running with the Enemy that started life as a memoir and then became a fictional suspense thriller. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

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